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Holidays with Children: How to Manage Child Behavior

The holidays are a very special time of year for many families.   We are often able to spend time with loved ones, enjoy special foods, and receive and give gifts.  However, it can be a stressful time of year for children due to excitement and changes in routine.

Here are some ideas to help enjoy holidays with children!

For Your Child:

  • Sleep – Try to keep bedtimes and wake-up times close to the child’s normal routine.  This will help your child get the rest he or she needs.  When we don’t get enough sleep it is harder to handle disappointments and excitement, manage our feelings, and make good choices.
  • Food – Keeping meal times as close to your schedule as possible and offering snacks when meal times are spread out more than usual will help your child stay calmer.
  • Expectations – It is helpful to decide your expectations for your child ahead of time. Think about what your child is able to do regarding behavior.  For example, if your child usually only sits at the dinner table for 5-10 minutes, a long holiday meal might be a stretch.  If your child gets over stimulated easily, a trip to see Santa at the mall might be too much.
  • Values – What holiday experiences are important to you? What is meaningful to you to share with your child?  Is it putting up the tree?  Making cookies?  Listing out what is important for you is a way to determine what activities you decide to pursue and what you decide you might not pursue.
  • Screen Time – During the holidays, children often get more screen time due to traveling and the need for children to be busy at times when parents are pulled in other directions.  That is totally ok!  Just try to get back on schedule as soon as it is feasible for your family.  Expect that there may be some defiance and possibly a few meltdowns (even with big kids!)  However, you can get through it and return to your usually family screen time rules.  You can find more information on managing screen time for your child
  • Discipline – Try to stick with the strategies that you use the rest of the year.
  • Understanding – Sometimes it is helpful, if a child is using challenging behaviors, to take a moment, before acting, to figure out what your child is experiencing. Is your toddler over stimulated by all the holiday hubbub?  Has your preschooler been up too late?  Is your older child getting too much attention for negative behavior from extended family members who think it is cute?  Is your teenager getting too much screen time?  Once you can problem solve a little, it can make it easier to figure out a next move that makes sense and you are able to carry out.
  • Extended Family Members – Sometimes we have really different views on parenting than those of our parents, brothers, and sisters. Sometimes it can feel like others are undermining our strategies.  If you feel that you need to say something to a relative, making it direct and positive may make it easier for the other person to understand and be able to support you.  For example, “I know you are having fun playing with Sam.  It is getting a little late and Sam really needs his sleep so that he can enjoy visiting with you tomorrow.  Maybe you two can hang out tomorrow?  He would love to show you his blocks.”
  • Special Play: Take at least 5 minutes a day to sit down with your child and let him or her show you how to play.  Follow your child’s play.  During this time, avoid trying to teach your child or correct behavior.  Simply, be with your child and praise all the amazing ideas he or she has and thank your child for spending time playing with you.  This will go a long way towards your child being able to stay calm during the rest of the day.  For more information regarding how to use play to help your child, you can read about Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) here.
  • Praise the Positive: Try to point out to your child when they are behaving well.  This can go a long way towards your child behaving well during the holiday season.
  • Designate a Calm Down Space: Try to find a quiet room at your house or the home you are visiting that your child can escape to when he or she needs to calm down.  This isn’t a time-out space but rather a place for any of your family members to go have quiet time if they need it.  You can have books, crayons and paper, or any other quiet activities that your child enjoys in this spot.  This can be a great place for you to reconnect with your child as well.

For You:

  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Relax:  Build some quiet relaxation time into each day of the holiday.
  • Stick To Your schedule:  Try to get the amount of sleep that you usually need to function.  You need your rest to feel your best and care for your child.
  • Exercise: If you can stick to your exercise schedule, that is great.  Often travel and changes in schedule make it impossible.  A quick walk around the block or a dance party with your children will go a long way to getting you some of the emotional benefits of exercise.
  • Don’t Compare Yourself to Others: It can be difficult not to compare our children and ourselves to others, especially during the holidays.  Remember that people often try really hard to look their best in holiday photos and at family dinners!  People often try to only show their best selves.  Reflect back on what makes your child awesome and all the special time you had together this past year.  That is what matters.
  • Reach Out: The holidays can often bring up painful memories of years past.  Reach out and talk to someone if you are feeling sad or depressed.  You may want to consider talking to a therapist if your feelings are particularly intense, last past the holidays, or interfere with your daily functioning.

During the holidays we are often with our children for a more extended amount of time than the rest of the year.  We often have more of an opportunity to observe our child’s behavior and emotional well-being more intensely.  If you find that you have concerns about your child, please feel free to contact us at Hope Springs.

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